Review – Alan Wake

Stephen King once wrote that nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations. Their antithetical to the poetry of fear. In a horror story, the victim keeps asking why, but their can be no explanation, and there shouldn’t be one… With that we begin the story of Alan Wake, the new psychological horror game from Microsoft Game Studio and Remedy.

You play as the titular character Alan Wake, a renowned writer suffering from a bad case of writers block. Looking for an escape from his woes, Alan and his wife Alice take off to the northwestern town of Bright Falls, an idyllic small time, or so it seems by daylight. By night though things turn horrific as a mysterious manuscript written supposedly by Alan begins coming true, with deadly results. With darkness gathering all around you, your only weapon is the light.

The game itself is broken down into 6 episodes (with more coming as DLC in the future). While the daytime gives you a chance to explore and interact with the other characters, nighttime is where the true survival horror aspect of the game kicks into gear. The games plot is driven both by self-narration from Alan himself & his interactions with the other characters, but also through the mysterious manuscript pages scattered about the game. The manuscript can give you hints as to what lies down the road, or they can grant insights as to the dark presence that has besieged Bright Falls. As for the various episodes, there are numerous pop-culture references abounding, with nods to both iconic TV shows like Twin Peaks & The Twilight Zone, and classic horror novels like The Shining.

Character wise, Alan Wake has some exceptional personae that drive the story forward. Of course you’ve got Alan himself, the writer who’s inner demons haunt both his nightmares, and the physical world. However, the supporting cast of the game plays a huge role in the tale…

Alice: Alan’s wife who joins in his trip to Bright Falls, and disappears soon after under mysterious circumstances.

Barry: Alan’s agent, and the perpetual comic relief of the game. He’s got some of the most memorable lines in the game, and serves as a bright point of light throughout the adventure.

Agent Nightengale: FBI agent hunting down Alan Wake, but for what purpose does he hunt a simple writer with the tenacity of a hardened criminal?

Combat in the game takes place in a 3rd person perspective, pitting you against encounter after encounter with the dark presence. By themselves, enemies start out immune to any damage, however by shining light upon them you literally burn away the dark aura surrounding them, allowing you to take them down with any number of weapons. Items such as flares can give you a momentary respite from attack, while standing under streetlamps restores your health. Despite having access to the light, the game can throw overwhelming odds against you. Don’t be afraid to run if things aren’t going your way, cause it will save your life in this game.

Pluses: The plot is frighteningly good, with huge twists and turns at nearly every point. Punctuate these twists with a few “WOW!” moments (play the on-stage battle, you’ll see what I mean), and you’ve got the makings of a great horror series. Also, Alan Wake features one of the best musical scores I’ve seen in a video game in a very long time. We’re talking truly epic stuff here folks.

Minuses: while Alan Wake is overall a great game, there’s a few gripes we do need to address. My major grip with the game, product placements. Do we need to run a product placement every 5 minutes? From Alan’s car with Microsoft Sync, to billboards for Verizon Wireless, not to mention Energizer batteries everywhere. Seriously, last I recall there is such a thing as suspension of disbelief folks. Second, the controls can be a bit more precise, they tend to be clunky at times, especially when your trying to run away from multiple enemies at once. Lastly, though it may just be me, but the ending really didn’t make a huge amount of sense. I suspect this may just be one of those things you have to watch a couple times to really get the jest of it. Or maybe they’re laying the foundation for something further down the line with the upcoming episodes. We’ll see.

Overall, Alan Wake is a good survival horror game with a top notch plot, and a mysterious plot that will keep you guessing through to the end and beyond.  The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest, and it’s what we’ll remember in the end.


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May 2010
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